How do we know if we should hold a vote?

There is no clear-cut answer with regard to when a library should pursue a public vote. However, since the foremost responsibility of a library board is to maintain proper financing for the library, it is important that the future financial health of the library be a primary consideration. A library board should project ahead several years and see how long the current financing will be sufficient. MHLS recommends that libraries eligible for 414 votes hold one once at least every three years. This enables the library to keep pace with rising costs and increased patron demands, as well as reminds the community that the library depends upon their financial support. (Note: Chapter 414 public votes are available to association and municipal libraries.) See more information about vote types.

How much should we ask for?

There isn't a precise formula for determining the amount of money a library should request when going for a public vote. Libraries have relied on different methods for devising a number.

  • Many project their future needs and then add in a modest amount of extra funds.
  • Some libraries make a budgetary jump when they do their first 414, seeing it as a one-time opportunity to do so because they don't have a prior 414 fund comparison.
  • Selected libraries base their decision primarily on how much their community will likely approve.

It is always good practice to determine what new services people want and verify the overall cost for these services and the projected cost per taxpayer. The best recommendation for deciding upon a budget figure is to select a reasonable number, one that you can justify asking for, and then go with it.

Points to Ponder:

"You have to indicate that you are being responsible and not being frivolous. You have to show the community that you take your fiduciary responsibility seriously."
-Sue Hartshorn, Former Board President, Starr Library, (Rhinebeck) NY

"Stanford never had a vote before. Because it was our first time, we didn't have a limit or a base number to go from, so we were able to take a big jump.
I'm glad we took a big jump."

- Mark Williams, Board President, Stanford Library, NY

How long does a public library's vote campaign take?

A successful campaign typically requires 6-9 months of work, with the last few months requiring the most concentrated effort. The campaign is broken down into five phases, which make it more structured and manageable.

Creating a written campaign outline or plan early on, once you have decided to go for a vote, will streamline the vote process and save you time later on. Taking time upfront to develop an actual strategy for winning will increase your likelihood of victory considerably. For help in creating a campaign plan, use the suggested steps and template provided in the Campaign Planning Guide.

Continue to Part 3


Part 1: Facing Your Fears
Part 2: Frequently Asked Questions About Library Votes
Part 3: Determine if You are Ready for a Vote

- Step 1: Are We Ready
- Step 2: We're Ready: How to Get Started
- Step 3: Ready-Set-Go: Putting the Pieces in Place
Part 4: Lesson Learned from Library Votes: Words from the Wise
Part 5: Additional Resources to Help You with Your Vote
Part 6: Voter Matrix/Magic Quadrant


This toolkit was created on behalf of the 2005-2007 Getting to Yes (GTY) project. GTY is funded by Federal Library Services and Technology Act funds, awarded to the New York State Library by the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services.

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